Prepare your property for winter

Winter can be a beautiful and picturesque time of year, but the freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall can cause problems for your property.  As we approach Christmas and with the winter weather already beginning to bite, it’s a good time to make sure your home or business will be safe from the worst effects of the season.


Protect your Pipes

It’s vital that your water pipes are insulated during cold spells, to prevent them from freezing, bursting and flooding your home.  Where water pipes are in unheated spaces, such as a loft, it is vital that they are insulated with pipe lagging or by topping up the insulation in the loft.

If the water in a pipe freezes, it will burst through the pipe and when it thaws, flood your home and cause massive amounts of damage.  Pipe lagging and insulation can be bought in any major DIY store and is easy to fit yourself.  It’s also a good idea to know where your stop valve is located, so you can find it quickly in an emergency to turn the water supply off.

Scottish Water have a useful video on Youtube on how to insulate your pipes and the Scottish Government have advice on how to deal with frozen pipes on their website.

Heating your home

If you plan on spending time away at Christmas (or at any time during cold spells), it is worth keeping your heating on low at all times to prevent pipes from freezing.  In addition, increasing the amount of insulation in your loft will make it quicker and cheaper to heat your home, as less heat will escape through the roof space.  The Government’s Greener Scotland website provides further useful advice on how to make your home more energy efficient.

It’s also a good idea to have the name of a reputable plumber or heating engineer on hand in case the heating in your home breaks down over the festive period.

Preparing for severe weather

Winter can often mean heavy snowfall, which can often lead to power lines being brought down.  Having torches and candles close to hand will be useful if the power supply is interrupted, and the Government advise (in the age of the constantly-being-charged smartphone) having a non-mains powered landline telephone will help you stay in touch.

When snow does fall, it is handy to have a snow shovel and some salt or grit at home to enable you to clear paths and driveways quickly.  Also find out where your nearest grit bin is located, which should be replenished when required by your local authority.

Heavy snow landing on roofs can also cause problems when it melts, bringing with it gutters and causing damage to slates and roof tiles, not to mention the damage it can cause if it lands on cars, fences, garden furniture or people walking past.  Keep an eye on thick snow on roofs and make sure the snow or falling gutters aren’t going to cause damage if they fall from your roof.


And finally…

If you have elderly neighbours or relatives, please pop in and check they are OK – winter can be a challenging time for everyone and it’s worth checking on them to see that they are warm and comfortable in their home.

John Lancaster / Architect
4 Carlyle Court, Haddington, East Lothian, EH41 3EZ

Call 07730 532978 or email
Visit my website:
Find me on Facebook, Twitter or Linked In – search JohnLancArch or John Lancaster Architect



Planning Permission – a beginner’s guide.

Most people seem to be unsure of what permissions are required for extending or altering their properties, so I thought it would be useful to answer some common questions about them here (these answers apply to Scotland but may still be useful if you are in England or Wales).

First up is planning permission – articles on listed building consents and building warrants coming soon!

What is planning permission?

If you want to construct a new building or make changes to an existing building, you will require the consent of the local planning authority, which is your local Council.  Planning permission is designed to control inappropriate development, deals mainly with aesthetic and neighbourly issues, and makes sure that your development doesn’t have a negative impact on the surrounding neighbourhood.

When do I need planning permission?

All new buildings require planning permission.  Most extensions to existing buildings will require planning permission, as will some outbuildings, but this depends on the size of the project and its location.  Some small alterations and extensions may not require planning permission and may be allowed under Permitted Development Rights.  Planning permission is also required for changing the use of a building – for example, converting a house into flats, or a shop into an office.  It’s also not widely known that advertising consent can often be required for new signage for shops and businesses.

What are Permitted Development Rights?

Many small, unobtrusive alterations and extensions can be carried out under Permitted Development Rights, without the need to submit a planning application.  The level of work that can be carried out under Permitted Development Rights depends on many factors including the location of the alteration or extension and its size.

Permitted Development Rights differ for houses and flats, and listed buildings or those in a conservation area may not have the same rights.  It’s always best to check with the Council if you are unsure whether the work you want to carry out will be allowed under Permitted Development Rights or if it will require the submission of a planning application.

How much will a planning application cost?

A planning application fee for a new house in Scotland currently costs £319, which is payable to the local Council.  For an extension or alterations, the fee is £160.  There is a fee calculator available on the ePlanning website, which will help you to calculate the fee for any other applications that might be required.

(Note: These fees are current at November 2012 and should be confirmed with you local Council).

What drawings are required for a planning application?

Each planning application will have different requirements, depending on the size of the project.  Generally a planning application should include a location plan, a site plan, floor plans and elevations showing both the existing site and the proposals, as well as the relevant application forms and not forgetting the correct fee!  For projects in a conservation area, a Design and Access Statement is also required.

How long will the planning application take?

The local Council will provide written receipt of the application once it is registered, which can take up to two weeks.  There is then a neighbour notification period of three weeks, during which time your neighbours will be notified and given the opportunity to comment on the proposals.  Thereafter the Council aim to make a decision within two months of receiving the application.

How long do I have to start work once planning permission is granted?

Planning permission lasts for three years – you must start work during that time period or the permission will lapse and you will have to reapply.  Other approvals will also be required – most construction projects, however small, will require a building warrant, amongst other approvals.

Can I change my plans once planning permission has been granted?

Minor alterations to the planning permission can be dealt with by submitting the relevant forms along with drawings showing the changes.  Major alterations may require a further planning application and should be discussed with the planning officer who dealt with the original application.

What next?

If you would like to discuss any of the above or are considering altering or extending your property, get in touch:

John Lancaster / Architect
4 Carlyle Court, Haddington, East Lothian, EH41 3EZ

Call 07730 532978 or email
Visit my website:
Find me on Facebook, Twitter or Linked In – search JohnLancArch or John Lancaster Architect

Architect in the House

Now that I’m a chartered architect and member of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS), I thought it would be a good thing to use my skills to raise some money for charity, so I signed up to Architect in the House 2012, a joint charitable initiative by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the RIAS and Shelter.

For a suggested donation of £40 to Shelter, homeowners can receive an hour consultation with a RIBA or RIAS chartered architect.  Whether you are considering an extension or alterations to provide more space, or just want to use the space you have more efficiently, an architect can help.

If you live in East Lothian, Midlothian, Edinburgh or West Lothian, and sign up before Wednesday 11th July, there’s a good chance I could be coming round to help you Architect your House…

Sign up at


Visit my website at, find me at or follow me on Twitter


Buildings shaped like Animals

Next week is the Royal Highland Show, held annually at the Royal Highland Showground outside Edinburgh and one of the biggest agricultural shows in the country and Scotland’s biggest summer event, attracting over 200,000 visitors (including myself and Jill, who regards this as one of the highlights of her year!).

So in honour of the Highland Show, this week’s blog takes a wee break from “serious” architecture and looks at animal-shaped buildings from around the world…

Normal service will resume in two weeks time!

Elephant Tower, Bangkok

This tower in the Chatuchak district of Bangkok features office space, apartments, a shopping centre and leisure facilities.  And is shaped like an elephant.  I would love to try and get something like this past a Planning Committee in Scotland!

The Big Duck, Flanders, New York

This “building” is listed on the American National Register of Historic Places.  Built in 1931 by a duck farmer (yes, really), as somewhere to sell his eggs, The Big Duck has moved several times but now sits in Flanders NY and is now a tourist attraction in it’s own right, selling … yep, you guessed it, duck souvenirs.

Gagudju Crocodile Holiday Inn, Kakadu National Park, Australia

The Kakuda National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia is renowned for the richness of it’s Aboriginal culture and is a World Heritage Site, with ancient rock artworks painted over 18,000 years ago.  And it is also famous for being the only place in the world with a Holiday Inn shaped like a crocodile.  Unfortunately the Trip Advisor reviews aren’t very flattering…   

Scotch Whisky Distilleries and Pagoda Roofs

As most will already know, I originally come from Elgin in the north east of Scotland which is home to one of the world’s best whisky shops and is very close to Speyside where some of the finest malt whisky is made.  The news this week that Diageo are to invest over £1 billion in Scotch Whisky production over the next five years (BBC News, is good news for Moray and the north of Scotland, with a new distillery being built along with new warehouses for the angels to steal their share from.

All of which leads nicely to this week’s blog post, which touches on one of the most famous symbols of Moray and Speyside, and especially of whisky itself – the pagoda roof, many examples of which can be seen nestling in misty glens across Speyside at the top of many traditional distilleries.  Many modern buildings across Scotland and further afield have sought to replicate this distinctive form, although the majority are usually in a more watered down form.  Even the architects of the first English distillery in 120 years attempted to capture the romance of a traditional Scotch Whisky distillery by including their very own pagoda style roof atop their Norfolk barn style building.

Image by TheTim on Flickr (

But the pagoda roof was not just for show – this iconic piece of Scottish architecture was designed for a very ordinary yet specific purpose.  It is a chimney, designed to improve the flow of smoke out of the building from the peat fires which dried the malt below.

The pagoda roof was designed by renowned distillery architect Charles Chree Doig, who was born in Angus in 1855.  He moved to Elgin in 1882 where he became assistant to Land Surveyor Mr H. M. S. Mackay, later becoming a partner in the business and diversifying into architecture and engineering (no masters degrees, Part 3 exams or ARB registration back then!).  The owners of Dailuaine Distillery near Aberlour commissioned Doig to improve their maltings, converting the existing ventilator into the distinctive pagoda shaped roof that is so familiar.

Like all good architects, many options were considered and discounted before the final design was reached – this extract from Doig’s plans shows the various options considered:

Image from

The design is extremely elegant and highly efficient – the large, curved top section, whilst not only being beautiful to look at, protects the drying malt below from the elements while shedding rain far from the ventilation opening that allows the smoke to escape.

The pagoda roof on most distilleries is now largely redundant, with most malting taking place in vast, centralised, industrial maltings complexes dotted around the country.  Modern distilleries, like Austin-Smith:Lord’s building for Diageo at Roseisle Maltings near Elgin, are also clean, efficient, modern factories where whisky is distilled, rather than the romantic, misty, blackened distilleries that do so well at drawing the tourists.  Whisky is big business for Scotland, and £1 billion pounds is big money – let’s hope they use it to build more distilleries like Roseisle and less like St George’s!

Lovely Jubilee!!

Well since everyone else is doing royalty themed articles etc in honour of Her Majesty’s 60 years on the throne, I thought I would do the same…

But what to write about?  Her Majesty is not known to be a patron of Architecture, and no new palaces have been commissioned in the past 60 years.  Her cousin the Duke of Gloucester trained as an Architect but there doesn’t seem to be any information on who he worked for before succeeding to his title.  Prince Charles is well known for his interest in Architecture and Urban Design, but I fear he is far too big a topic to be writing about here …

So then I thought about the palaces – there are many, and most are well loved.  But maybe not… Buckingham Palace will be at the centre of this weekend’s celebrations and is such a well known building that most people will not even give it a second look.  But is it a well liked building?  The BBC recently published an article called, controversially, “Is Buckingham Palace Ugly?”…

Makes for a very interesting read!

Housing innovation in Fife

I spent a fantastic sunny morning in Dunfermline yesterday visiting the Housing Innovation Showcase, a project by Kingdom Housing Association.  The 27 houses and flats built for the showcase form the first phase of 121 units for social rent, and at first glance look much like most other social housing schemes.  The difference here is that Kingdom have used 10 different “modern methods of construction”, along with various types of renewable technologies, and will assess them in a real world situation to see which are viable options for construction of much larger developments in the future.

Without going into too much detail, there were three parts of the showcase which really stood out for me – the Passivhaus, the Future Affordable block (and in particular the solar photovoltaic rooftiles) and the Beco wallform blocks.

Passivhaus & Control HousePassivhaus (Block 6) – At first glance these two houses are ordinary two storey, semi-detached houses – the house on the left actually is an ordinary two storey, semi-detached house, being the control house for the rest to be assessed against and constructed using a standard timber frame construction (when I say ordinary, this is a social rent house so the standards are still pretty high in terms of low u values, high insulation, energy usage etc).  The house on the left, although to the same design and with the same internal layout, is built using a factory-made, closed timber panel system called “Val-U-Therm” (who came up with that name?!) injected with foam insulation to ensure every gap is filled.  In theory, this house should not need to be heated because of it’s exceptional airtightness (less than 1, when most normal houses are around 4-6).  What also surprised me (not knowing a huge amount about the Passivhaus standard…) is that it does not have any renewables – no solar thermal, no ground source heat pumps, no wind turbines – only a highly thermally efficient construction and a mechanical ventilation system.  It will be very interesting to see how this house performs.

Only downside – construction cost.  The control house cost slightly less than £70,000 to build while the Passivhaus cost £30,000 more.

Future Affordable housingFuture Affordable (Block 7) – Another interesting idea here, where three identical terraced houses are built to different Building Regulations – the left hand house is built to current 2010 Building Regs,  the middle one has been built to 2013 Building Regulations which require a reduced carbon emission rate and the right hand house is built to 2016 Building Regs, which requires a zero carbon emission rate.  These are all built using a similar closed panel timber frame system to Block 6, but with prefabricated bathroom pods made using mass timber from Scotland (which is generally less structurally stable than imported timber).  The really interesting thing on this block for me is the integrated Solar Photovoltaic tiles by Marley – they are very difficult to spot (see the slighlty darker tiles on the middle and right hand house) and far easier on the eye than the retrofit and surface mounted ones you see all over the place now.

Again, the one downside is the cost – these tiles cost around double what a surface mounted PV panel would cost – but with any luck the price will come down so far that we can afford to install these on every new house by 2016!

Beco Wallform (Block 10) – If (like me) you loved building houses using Lego when you were a kid, this system will definitely appeal!  Like giant polystyrene Lego blocks, Beco Wallform is literally stacked and slotted into each other to create a permanent insulated formwork into which concrete is poured.  I saw this on Grand Designs several years ago and it’s interesting to see it filter down to affordable housing.

The only downside I can see is once I’d finished building a house out of this stuff, I’d then want to build a Police Station, then a Fire Station, then rebuild the house, then an Airport Terminal